If New York’s new medical marijuana law “strikes the right balance,” as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says it does, it’s only because some elected officials are too timid or too out of touch to acknowledge that pot is nearly ubiquitous in American society and that many more people, suffering greatly, would benefit from smoking it. Many, no doubt, already do and will continue to do so, despite the many restrictions and delays built into this law.
Still, the law just approved by the New York State Assembly and Senate, with Cuomo’s support, is at least a step in the right direction. With it, New York becomes the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana – not leading the pack, but not bringing up the rear, either.
The law will eventually be of help to some New Yorkers undergoing terrible conditions that marijuana use has shown evidence of easing. It will be important to monitor the implementation of this law, not just to be sure it isn’t being abused, but with an eye toward expanding its availability to others who will be denied its legal use for conditions where it could be beneficial.
As it stands, the legislation that was approved Friday bans the sale of smokable forms of marijuana and limits its prescription to oil-based pills and vaporization methods. Those forms are expected to be more expensive and will limit the conditions for which it will be helpful.
In addition, it will take at least 18 months for the program to become effective and perhaps three years before any prescriptions can be dispensed at a limited number of sites. There is a remarkable degree of caution being exercised, perhaps appropriately, but for a product that is openly used by millions recreationally, despite its illegality. The fact is that marijuana laws are already honored mainly in the breach.
Indeed, some legislators objected to the restrictions on the program, but they wisely relented, understanding that any movement on an issue that makes politicians sweat is worth their support. They can come back in future sessions to broaden the law.
Patients most likely to benefit from the law include those suffering from such conditions as cancer, AIDS and epilepsy. The law includes tough penalties for doctors who knowingly prescribe marijuana for patients not on that list and it lets a governor cancel the program at any time if he or she believes it is not working.
And therein lies a problem. That provision, along with a clause that ends the program in seven years unless reauthorized, could dissuade marijuana-growing businesses from entering the New York market. The program envisions five companies growing and dispensing marijuana from 20 sites scattered around the state.
Still, laws can be changed and perhaps this one can be improved if necessary.
Not that many years ago, wary lawmakers allowed liquor stores to open on Sunday, but only if they closed on another day. It was a dumb restriction, one obviously meant to provide some cover for nervous politicians worried about a backlash. The following year, that restriction was rescinded. Nobody really cared.
Some people worry about any loosening of marijuana laws, fearful that giving pot any legitimacy increases potential health risks and puts users on the road to harder drugs. Those may be legitimate concerns – or not – but the fact is that the argument is all but moot. For better or worse, marijuana is interwoven into American culture and it’s not going to be pulled out.
Given that, it is well worth allowing this substance to be used by New Yorkers suffering from debilitating illnesses and, as soon as possible, opening the door to others who could benefit from a inhaling vapor, swallowing a pill or even taking a puff.